Tuesday | 16 April 2024

“I can only recommend sitting in to perform before studying"

A conversation with student Luna Burkert on applying for studying Elemental Musical Education
Luna Burkert
Luna Burkert © Silas Isenmann

Name: Luna Burkert

Year of birth: 1998

Place of birth: Sinsheim

Favourite spot in Bremen: In the Bürgerpark, at the donkey corral

Favourite music: Funk, soul and everything that grooves

Favourite drink: Beer – Augustiner and Bayreuther Hell

Favourite sport: Yoga

Semester: 2. Master semester


You study Elemental Musical Education (Elementare Musikpädagogik, EMP), are you a music therapist?

No, a musician and educator.

How do you reconcile these professions within one personality? 

It is indeed tricky to find a balance, of course I also have the ego within me to be a great artist and present myself as such. That ambition currently is coming up short. But actually it is easy to combine that in your professional life: you teach during the week and play concerts on the weekend. That would perhaps be ideal for me, although you have to be careful no to head into a burnout. Let's see ... 

EMP is not dedicated to the task to introduce fans of popular hits to the complexity of classical music or to organise concerts, but rather to encourage and guide people to use the diversity of artistic expression in music, language and movement by applying their individual skills . What does that professional mission look like in practice? 

We encourage people to be able to create music themselves. They should be able to realise: If I want to do it, I can do it. No matter your age or previous experience. Everyone has so much potential that just needs to be discovered and developed. For example, we use the many instruments in our EMP practice room at the HfK and many other sound objects, work with body percussion, the voice, dance – in other words, we practice holistic music-making. And thus bring people together in a group of mixed abilities. This is important to me, I also want to fulfill a societal mission with what I do. 

Can you explain that on an example?

I am a huge fan of AC/DC and studied one of their hits with seniors ... 

… “Hells Bells”, “Highway to Hell”, “Whole Lotta Rosie” …

“Thunderstruck”! I took a look how the song is structured and wrote out all of the formal parts. We did vocal training exercises for this choir at the beginning, so that the articulation really came out from deep in the gut. Everyone was also asked to bring a pillow, a toilet paper roll and two wooden spoons. Everyone used these items to build their own drums, we practiced various rhythmic patterns and everyone acted out playing air guitar when we streamed the original guitar solo into the room. Some of the seniors stood on chairs and went crazy. Head banging! 

And did you include the school uniform that AC/DC guitarist Angus Young wears during performances?

Unfortunately we had no time for that anymore, but I once organised glitter outfits from the 1970s/1980s for an Abba project.

You have all of these wild ideas while coming from cozy, small town Wurzburg.

Yes, I finished two bachelor degrees there at the same time, EMP and transverse flute, while also working at the University of Music. I then played with the Wurzburg Symphony Orchestra or at Christmas concerts as a stand-in, and led a choir project here or a class for brass instruments there.

But you did pick up the flute as a child?

Indeed, I started playing transverse flute at age five ...

…voluntarily, for real?

Yes, absolutely, out of my own volition! Although I was really just too little at the beginning. Teaching flute now, I tell people that a suitable starting age is at eight or nine years. 

Can you still recall your initial fascination with the transverse flute – what drew you to the instrument and made you feel like it was the right instrument to turn something of your inner life to the outside – to other people? Was its relatively high, soft sound, its special look, and the way playing goes along with breathing?

Our neighbours had a daughter who was a little older than me and she was my role model at the time. She played the flute, which I thought was great. I wanted to do that, too.

And so you became acquainted with the electric guitar and drums to kind of compensate or balance your flute playing?

I do regret a bit that I only really learned to play the saxophone for four years. I am one of those kids growing up in a German Musikverein, a communal organisation for playing music. I was a member of the town band, I also sang in the band for high school graduation, and I took some singing lessons when I was at school. But I did not grow up in a musical family. I only started playing the piano shortly before the entrance exam in Wurzburg. I taught myself playing the ukulele and guitar on a rather poor level.

Did you acquire the basics for all of that at the University of Music?

I was in early musical education, then a year and a half in recorder lessons, then transverse flute lessons.

Other interests tend to come in the way during childhood and youth – but you just kept on going with music?

Playing was pretty easy for me right from the start, which was great for me because I had too many priorities and never practiced eight hours a day. But my parents always said: we pay for the lessons, either you practice or you have to stop. Since I did not want to do that, it went on and on. 

Did you ever have an issue with the idea that you kind of feed into this cliché that the flute is an instrument for girls while playing it? 

Yes, of course, especially because I am quite short at 1.53 meters. I kept hearing: “oh, look, here comes the flute mouse”. I could have also learned tuba or bass, that might have been cooler. But one may be surprised to find out while looking around in the world of Classical music that there are a great number of famous male flautists and orchestra seats for the instrument are held by men in many cases.

But you did decide against a career with orchestras or as a soloist?

Yes, that would have turned into a highly competitive and adversarial process. But after graduating from high school, I thought I was pretty good at music and that I was not that good at much of anything else, so I tried out as a flautist first. I took entrance exams at the music academies in Karlsruhe, Freiburg and Mannheim...

... and you failed three times?

But that was okay, I wanted to see what the requirements were for the artistically oriented degree course, and I learned that they are high, so it will probably take a while to get into a programme. At the same time, my mother gave me a flyer about EMP, which I had never heard of before. That said something about working with diverse groups and children that didn't sound like an alternative to me at first. 

So how did your enthusiasm for the field develop then?

I then looked at the EMP courses at a university information day in Wurzburg and then I realised that it was exactly my thing, my calling. And there is a different type of entrance exam for this than for the flute. You still audition, the instrument plays an important role, but the main subject is a different one, namely pedagogy. I completed the entrance exams in EMP in Mannheim, Stuttgart, Wurzburg and Nuremberg and was offered a place at every single institution – and then decided on Wurzburg with flute as my minor subject. With a little patience, two years later I managed to take the flute entrance exam for my main course. But my focus remains on my educational career. 

What kind of career are you thinking about exactly?

Inclusive music education, meaning: teaching people with and without disabilities to play music, is very important to me. I think we musicians have a great opportunity to advance something in our society.

But inclusion is not really the main focus at the EMP programme at the HfK Bremen.

Well, but that can change and become more integrated into pedagogical training generally. A Master’s Degree in Inclusive Music Education will be offered in Wurzburg starting next winter semester. 

Do you have experience in this work?

A friend of mine works at the inclusive Musikschule (music school) in Fürth, so I attended a conference, got to know the work and saw an inclusive band for the first time. What was happening there was so cool that I was shocked at myself for never having thought about whether something like that was possible. I then attended other events of that kind, took a two-year course and spent three years practicing inclusive playing music myself. 

Is this more about art or social work – about appearing in public or about developing something in a group? 

Both. It can be important to produce a result that people want to hear. But it is also about the shared experience of practicing a piece together. 

Is your background in Early music or rather Classical music? 

More in Classical. However, before studying, I also played a lot of Baroque music - Telemann, Bach, Vivaldi – as well as typical Romantic music, Fauré, Ibert, and even Mozart. The standard repertoire. 

So Early music was only a kind of a detour for you?

Baroque playing is more difficult for me because I do not have a good command of the stylistics. In Telemann's solo fantasies, for example, there is a polyphony that the soloist has to express by themselves, phrasing with vibrato and energetically shaping it in such a way that the two-part harmony and changes in harmony become transparent. When it comes to Romantic and Classical music, I can just let myself get carried away by the flute sound. In addition to the Classical repertoire, I also had great fun with New Music, where I can go into exaggerations and understatements, and I am fascinated by the new playing techniques to get sounds out of the flute that you would not even expect from it. 

So you desire more freedom?

I also fell into jazz at an early age. I attended a lot of elective jazz courses in Wurzburg, then went to the Bavarian State Youth Jazz Orchestra as a flautist – an instrument that was not present there before – saxophonists fill that role because they also play the flute. We played at festivals and in clubs. 

Do jazz musicians also let you play solos as a flautist?

At first I was very hesitant because I do not study jazz and am not confident in improvising, but then I had my solo break in our programme with "Twenty One" by Jay Ashby, which I could use as I wanted. That's why I would like to gather the courage to play at the jazz students' Tuesday sessions in the Musikkeller... .

... and just to jump in and jam with the flute.


Why did you leave Wurzburg after completing your bachelor’s degree?

The Master in EMP that the HfK offers is not available there. But other universities also do offer that degree. For example, I looked at studying in Freiburg, Rostock, Berlin and Leipzig. 

You just dropped in for a look?

Well, I officially sat in on lessons and played the flute to get feedback as to whether my skills would be good enough to be accepted. I was also in Bremen for some shadowing and it became clear to me that the course offerings and the module plan here suit me best. 

Is it a common practice to sit in?

Yes. And also definitely recommended for the bachelor's and master's degree, to try it out first. Because it is a very personal course of study and you would want to figure out what the atmosphere is like at the universities and where you could feel comfortable. 

How do you go about to get such an opportunity? 

You write an email to the professors teaching the majors and explain, this is me, this is my motivation and that is why I would like to apply to your course, can I please come over and sit in or shadow in class. I have always had good experiences in this regard, received quick feedback and made appointments. When studying an instrument, it is also common to observe lessons for 20 or 30 minutes and then try out the lessons yourself. This is also helpful in order to have a better chance of getting a spot later on, as the professors can say that you have to do this and that better in order to study with me. 

Is shadowing free?

Not always. Sometimes it is very expensive because people say it is like taking private lessons. You pay 150 euros for three quarters of an hour, which the teacher takes in cash. When I heard this from a university, I said, I will just come to watch, I can not afford to pay 150 euros. The audition in Bremen did not cost anything. 

And how did the shadowing go?

At the HfK I was invited to a group class, the participants explained what they were doing, then I was immediately involved and was able to take part for two days. I felt very comfortable and accepted. 

What did finally move you to study in Bremen?

On the one hand, there was hardly any opportunity to study EMP with the transverse flute as the main instrument anywhere else. Since I want to go into university teaching, it was important to me that I really learned something new during my master's degree after four years of the EMP bachelor's degree. And here in Bremen, the programme adds completely new content to my knowledge, especially a lot of scientific particulars in music education that I hardly encountered in this rigour and precision during the very practice-oriented bachelor's course in Wurzburg. At the HfK the focus is on university didactics; we are talking about a Master´s in Higher Education. 

So, after you have explored everything, even sat in and auditioned, does the entrance exam then become easier? 

The audition: yes. Since I already knew the places and people, I was much less nervous. 

What does the application entail? 

You have to muddle your way through the HfK website until you get to the list where it says everything that one needs to be submitted to get going: CV and certificates that you have received so far, proof of scholarships and participation in competitions, high school diploma. And for the master's degree you also need to hand in all of the transcript-of-records stuff from the bachelor's degree. My tip: Do not become to long-winded in your writing, otherwise no one will read it.

So you file your application – and then what?

Then you will be invited to the entrance exams. I had to show up for the flute audition on Monday at 8 a.m. I had to do a practice-warm up it with the people I staid with the night before. The scientific exam also took place on Monday, then on Thursday the EMP exam went down. 

What is required when auditioning? 

A 45-minute concert programme had to be prepared. You have to prepare three or four pieces of different styles to perform. I had rehearsed two movements of Bach's E minor sonata, Taktakischvili's Sonata for Flute and Piano, a Mozart concerto and a Holliger sonata for solo flute. I was provided a piano accompaniment and was allowed to play elements of the pieces for a total of seven minutes. The people running the exam always stop you quickly. The jury was made up of five people and they then heard 40 other flute applicants. 

Did you get any feedback? 

“Thanks, that’s enough for us,” they said. And then you leave. 

How did the scientific exam go? 

The five of us sat there for an hour with two professors who gave us a text and we were supposed to work with it, i.e. structure it, think of subheads, note down passages that seemed strange to us or that caught our eye in a positive way, but also think about whether we already know literature that we can compare with it. The topic was: musical talent. After reading, we sat together as if in a seminar and discussed the text. It was all completely relaxed. Even among us applicants there was no adversarial attitude, but rather togetherness. 

And then? 

Then I had to go straight to Rostock because I had the entrance exam there, but I was back in time for the EMP group exam. EMP lecturers did a 20 to 30-minute unit with us on movement design, singing, playing music, etc. Afterwards, we applicants had to lead the group for 20 minutes, which everyone had prepared for.

What did you prepare for that?

I had composed a seafaring song in E minor and played something in the key with many instruments to create something of a sea atmosphere. Then I encouraged the other applicants to improvise on xylophones, metallophones with E minor pentatonic, add drone sounds, etc. – this is how EMP methodology works – so I did not go like: Here is a sheet of music, play exactly that. Instead, I handed out non-verbal instructions. I also had to prepare a five-minute solo performance. 

Dance with the flute? 

The possibilities were endless. As inspiration, I took my favorite café in Wurzburg, where I practically lived, and knew that I would miss it a lot in Bremen. At home I recorded my voice with an iPad and microphone, layered it many times to create choral music and thought about how coffee production could be implemented using a portafilter machine in terms of movement design... 

... that really is a topic one needs a lot of ingenuity to come up with! 

Yes, you can’t feel ashamed when you get into developing and realise a topic. In any case, I danced the piece, played the choir music, improvised with my flute and recited a poem I had written, all accompanied by the sounds that occur when a coffee cup slides over a saucer. I had a lot of fun with that and the four people watching laughed in all the right places. 

You underwent various application rites, is Bremen special? 

No, it is kind of similar everywhere. Just this group instruction and solo performance was only required at the HfK. Oh no, in Leipzig I also had to perform something solo – sing a folk song. 

Was applying for a bachelor’s degree any different? 

It has become more digital. In 2017, I hauled stacks of thick envelopes with the documents to the post office shortly before the deadline, but today there are online portals everywhere for instructions and emails to send, so that you no longer have to rely on the post office. 

What kind of impression did you have of the HfK before you applied? 

I did not know the HfK at all before I applied, and it was only when I was researching on the EMP working group's website that I found out that there is a music college in Bremen. If you ask around, you will hear that Early music is great in Bremen, but that is not for me. But then I saw that Barbara Stiller is an EMP professor in Bremen, she is a big name in the EMP scene. Of course, that immediately attracted me to Bremen. I also discovered that Severin Krieger is a former lecturer at the HfK, who is also quite well known - and I thought, if they are or were both here, then it will be cool to be at the HfK. 

What were your first impressions? 

I was already satisfied: There is a cafeteria with vegan food, which I did not know from Wurzburg, they have only vending machines there. And I discovered the possibilities that the HfK is also a University for Fine Arts and Design and that there were already great connecting projects between the fields. I was also immediately very positively surprised at how many students here are involved in department councils, working groups and the AStA, something I had never experienced before.

Did the city play any role in your choice? 

Nope. In terms of the city, I would have preferred to go to Leipzig, but I feel quite comfortable here now. Although: My first purchase in Bremen was an umbrella because I had to realise that when it drizzles here, it does not just drizzle, it really rains persistently. 

Thank you for the interview!